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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript


But we begin tonight with the fight for health care reform. U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee is a Democrat and U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey is a Republican from Georgia. They're both members of the all-powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

I want to start with Jim Cooper. Jim, I watched you over the years be the moderate Democrat from the middle part of the country, from Tennessee, and I watched the role you played back in '94, trying to craft a more moderate version of health care up against the Clintons. I saw the Clintons go down to terrible defeat. They lost dozens and dozens of House seats, as you know, in '94. They blew it, you could say. I watched Ted Kennedy blow it back in the '70s when Nixon wanted to push through a complete employer mandate, a much more radical health care bill than we're even talking about right now.

Democratic liberals keep saying, We want it all. They keep losing it all. What's going to happen this time?

REP. JIM COOPER (D), TENNESSEE: I think we can get a good health reform bill done this year on the president's timetable. I think this dispute over the public option really depends on how you define it. I think we can get a good public option through that even the U.S. Senate would think is a good reform.

But it's very important that we define it carefully so that it appeals to folks in all 50 states. There's a lot of unnecessary concern about it today because a lot of folks think there would not be a level playing field. It's very important that the government plan not have any unfair advantage. I think we can construct one that does the key thing, and this is the most important issue and President Obama stressed it again and again, keep the insurance companies honest. We can put together a good public option that does exactly that.

MATTHEWS: And you believe it could pass with 51, or rather 60 Democrats in the Senate, perhaps 60 including a couple Republicans, and get 218 in the House? Could we get a bill?

COOPER: I think we can.

MATTHEWS: This fall?

COOPER: This fall. The key hurdle, though, is 60 votes in the Senate because reconciliation will not apply to any real health care reform bill, so you've got to really be aiming, as Tom Daschle said in his confirmation hearings, for 70 or 80 votes, but you at least have to get 60. and that means it's got to be bipartisan to have a health care reform bill become law.

MATTHEWS: Well, you're talking against Kent Conrad, who's chairman of the Budget Committee. He ought to know on the Senate side. He says you can't get a public option through the Senate.

COOPER: But it depends on how you define it. He's said that a co-op might work, and that's a real public option if you define the co-op carefully so that it protects consumer rights. And the key thing is not only keeping insurance companies honest but also benchmark pricing, so you know what a fair deal is on a good health insurance policy. Today, a lot of Americans don't know that.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Gingrey. It seems like the Republicans talk alternatives when the Democrats have a health care bill, but you don't get anything through when you guys are in charge. What's the story?

REP. PHIL GINGREY ®, GEORGIA: Well, Chris, I can tell you this...

MATTHEWS: Is there a free-standing Republican approach? Is there a Republican plan for health care?

GINGREY: There is definitely a plan for health care, and I can list about six items that we are in favor of, and I think the Democrats, I'm sure Jim Cooper, a strong Blue Dog and a good fiscal conservative, would agree with our plan. But the one thing that we do not agree on is this idea of a public option, and that is what the American people are telling the president, telling Democratic members across the country, you know, We don't want this. We do not want the government taking over health care.

And why do we have to have a government option keeping the health insurance industry honest? We want the same thing for the automobile industry or every industry across this country, the government's to be in there to keep corporate America honest, the steel industry, for an example? You pick one and name one.

But the American people are saying, You know, we want health care reform. The Republicans are saying, We want health care reform, but we don't want a government takeover. We don't want socialized medicine and national health care.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Those words are frightening to a lot of people. Let me ask you this about a moderate form, what Congressman Cooper just mentioned. What do you think of a co-op?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, I'm not sure we know what that co-op is. I mean, Kent Conrad has talked about it. All the machinations going on in the Senate Finance Committee, it's all been kept close to the breast (SIC). I don't think the American people really know what this co-op would look like. I mean, I want to look at it closely. And certainly, I will take-just like Senator Shelby said on Sunday, let's take a look at it and let's make sure. I think anything is better than this government option that's in there...


GINGREY: ... competing with an unfair advantage on an unequal playing field.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask Mr. Cooper, Congressman, would you try to sell Mr. Gingrey right now on live television on a co-op, some sort of modified public plan that would not offend people concerned about socialism?

COOPER: Well, Phil is a good friend of mine, but he's tough to sell on these things. A co-op is really used over three-quarters of the land area of America so we buy our electricity that way. It's a creature of the New Deal. It's worked really pretty well over all of the country for 70 or 80 years. It's owned by the customers, it's not owned by the government. It works. It works real well.

There are good ways to solve this problem. I think the key is to be open-minded, to not use alarmist rhetoric, to focus on the real problem of 47 million uninsured Americans today, unaffordable health care for virtually everybody, and really, a runaway health care system that's not providing the quality that we deserve here in America.

So we can solve any problem we want to in this great country. Let's put our minds together and let's calmly and rationally solve this health care problem. It's eluded every president for 60 years, but we can do it and we can do it without a big-government solution.

MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. Gingrey, your response?

GINGREY: My response is that I agree with Jim. I mean, things like association health plans, equalizing the tax treatment, making sure that people that get their insurance through a small employer or individual market get the same tax benefit, tax break, discounted insurance, making sure that we create statewide high-risk pools so that people that have pre-existing conditions don't pay-certainly don't pay more than one-and-a-half to two times the standard rates, and they also get an opportunity to get a subsidy, if they need that, from the federal government if they're low-income, say below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

MATTHEWS: Any chance, Congressman...

GINGREY: So I really do believe...

MATTHEWS: Do you think there's any chance of a compromise? I mean, seriously, if we get something that's-if it's just something that's-suppose the bill has the following elements, gentlemen. It basically tells young people who are healthy, Hey, you got to get some health insurance. You got to share some of the costs and risks of health insurance. Employers, you'll get some encouragement to do-have a health care benefit. You won't be forced to, but you'll get some encouragement. Poor people have to do their bit and kick in what they can afford for health care, but you'll get some kind of subsidy. Some general approach that basically gets everybody on the road towards coverage.

Congressman Gingrey, could you support that, or would you still basically take a free enterprise approach and not really want the government even to go that far?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, I could support that. And quite honestly, I believe I could sit down with Jim Cooper, people like us on a bipartisan basis and we could work this out. You talk about young people, wanting to encourage them to have health insurance, but at the same time, why would we do something like destroy these high-deductible low-premium policies combined with a health savings account, the very thing that the young people want and need so they have catastrophic coverage. According to HR 3200, we would actually be destroying that and creating more in the ranks of the uninsured, not less.

MATTHEWS: OK. You know, I understand there's a left and I understand there's a right, and I understand people really disagree, Mr. Cooper, but let me ask you this. You spoke about it this weekend. You come from the center part of the country. We know the issue of the 2nd Amendment. It's part of our law. It's part of our Constitution, part of our heritage. We live with it. It can be dangerous, but we prefer rights over control of people's lives.

OK, that given, why has the gun issue come into this? Why are people toting firearms to these-in a couple of cases, more than a couple cases now, people are bringing loaded revolvers to these town meetings. One showed up the other day-we had him on the show-at a meeting with the president in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You mentioned it this weekend. Why do people who care about gun rights, which seems to me somewhat separate from this issue, getting involved in the health care debate?

COOPER: Well, Chris, it's a free country, and under our Constitution, the 2nd Amendment is just as important as the 1st Amendment or any other amendment in our Bill of Rights. So that's the way that it is, and we need...

MATTHEWS: But why are they bringing it up here in this health care debate? Why are people showing up armed and ready...


MATTHEWS: And I'm serious. It's not funny. It is-because one of these times, somebody is going to pull one of these guns out. I don't know what their rules of engagement are, but if you bring a loaded gun somewhere, sooner or later, somebody's going to use one because they're going to get provoked. And I just wonder what you think the connection is between the 2nd Amendment, which we accept under the Constitution, it's there, it's a right in the Bill of Rights-why is that an issue in the health care debate?

COOPER: Well, all I know is there's a lot of emotion right now, and if everyone would just be calm and rational and fair to each other and listen to both sides, we can solve this problem and any other problem. The key is clear communication. America is the greatest country in the history of the world. We just got to allow our great citizens to talk clearly to each other, and we can do that.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Gingrey, the same question to you. What's the connection between the 2nd Amendment and health care? I mean, this happened again today. This isn't something cooked up by us. This is people bringing guns to these public meetings. Why?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, they have every right to do that. These may be...

MATTHEWS: We know that.

GINGREY: ... off-duty police officers. They...

MATTHEWS: Well, that's...

GINGREY: You don't know. But if they've got a permit to carry, then absolutely, they can show that and prove that they have the right. If they're coming into a...

MATTHEWS: But why would you bring a gun...

GINGREY: ... school, they may...

MATTHEWS: ... to where the president was speaking? Why would you bring a gun-anybody-I know it's a right. But why would you do it? Under what conditions would you choose to use it? You don't bring a gun somewhere...

GINGREY: Well, I...

MATTHEWS: ... you don't intend to ever use it, so why would you bring a gun into a situation like a public meeting? I've never seen this in my life before, people coming armed to public debates about health care?

GINGREY: Chris, it just so happens these very people would take that same weapon anywhere they go, anywhere where they're permitted to carry a concealed weapon. They have the right to do that, and I agree with Jim...

MATTHEWS: They're not concealed.

GINGREY: ... the right under the 2nd Amendment...

MATTHEWS: We're looking at it right...


MATTHEWS: OK. OK, look, we're looking right now, gentlemen-I have an advantage on you. I'm looking at gentlemen here that have guns on them, on their holsters. They're not concealed. They're basically displaying their weaponry, armed weaponry at these public meetings. I'm just asking why is it going on? What do you think? You're political experts. What's going on in the country? You first, Congressman Gingrey, then you, Congressman Cooper, then we got to go. Why are people coming armed to public meetings?

GINGREY: Well, Chris, if they have the right to do that, I have no fear of it. And I've had already five town hall meetings. I have six more planned. I don't plan on wearing a bulletproof vest. In fact, I usually get standing ovations...


GINGREY: ... when I come into these meetings...

MATTHEWS: Would you discourage...

GINGREY: ... so I have no fear.

MATTHEWS: OK, how about this. Would you discourage Americans, regardless of race, color, creed, or political identification, not to come armed to public meetings? Would you discourage them from doing that?

COOPER: My answer is yes.

GINGREY: No, I would not-yes.

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman Cooper says-he's a moderate. I guess by today's terminology, a moderate is somebody who says, Please don't come armed to public meetings. Mr. Gingrey, your opportunity. You can say what you want. Do you think people should come armed to public meetings to discuss health care or not?

GINGREY: I would think that they should exercise their rights under the 2nd Amendment.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. You made yourself clear, Congressman Gingrey. Good look, Mr. Cooper.

COOPER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Last time around, you played a big role. I hope you can find a compromise. I think nothing is worse than doing nothing. That's my view.

Coming up: Should Democrats be concerned about the 2010 midterm elections? Wait'll you see-we think they do have something to worry about, and maybe that worry will cause some of them to vote no on this health care bill just out of fear.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


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